Brenda Dare is sick of going to funerals for people with disabilities and hearing others say that the person who died is in a better place.
"What better place is that?" said Dare, of Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living. "Here is a better place, in my heart is a better place, at my kitchen table is a better place. ... How do we get to where here's the better place?"
Dare, who uses a wheelchair, was one of several advocates for disabled rights who spoke this past week at a candlelight vigil honoring the lives of people with disabilities killed by their families and caretakers.
About 20 people attended the event at the William Pitt Union in Pittsburgh, joining people in more than 40 cities in the United States and abroad holding public vigils on a "Day of Mourning."
"The lives of people with disabilities are worthwhile, and it is our deaths — not our lives — that are the tragedy," said Jessica Benham, of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, which hosted the gathering. "Tonight we are asking people to step into the shoes of victims to understand what it would be like to be killed by someone you loved and trusted."
Benham said a nationwide study released this week revealed that in the past year, more than one person with a disability was killed each week by family members or caregivers.
She lamented that the killings are at times portrayed as being justified because of the amount of work that people with disabilities can create for their family members or caregivers.
"Oftentimes the excuse is that our disabilities just made it so hard for the people giving care to us — that's the excuse," Benham said. "And that's just not right — that's murder."
Dr. Bethany Ziss of the Children's Institute said that it's important to remind people, particularly parents of children with disabilities, that people with disabilities can lead happy lives with the right care and support.
"I think we do too much giving them the bad news — not that it still can't be difficult and painful — but a disabled life can be a happy life, a joyful life," she said. "It may be a different life than a family expected for their child, but it can be a good life."
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